Eden Court, Inverness
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By Margaret Chrystall
IF you wanted a voice to soothe after the turmoil of Referendum night, it was KATE RUSBY’s, spinning songs of young lovers, silly old men, outlandish knights and ghosts.
A dollop of Yorkshire charm and a bit of forthright good sense didn’t go amiss either for last Friday’s post-referendum crowd.
"Let’s discuss the elephant in the room," she grinned at Eden Court’s Empire Theatre before the first song got underway. "Commiserations and congratulations, in equal measure!"
Nine songs from Kate’s new album Ghosts kept the night firmly in the here and now, though there was the odd trip back – to 2005 for The Lark from The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly, 2010’s The Wishing Wife, a couple from Awkward Annie and all the way to 2001’s rousing night-finisher I Courted A Sailor.
It’s not just a set of songs that combine Kate’s own songwriting prowess with traditional but tweaked old folk tales that you get from a Rusby gig. It’s a whole world that lets anyone even slightly homesick for the north of England feed their hunger.
Kate’s music, perky humour and frank sharing of life as a young mum make for a comforting, cosy experience that you can literally buy into at the interval at a groaning table of Kate CDs, mugs, bags and DVDs.
It’s not every gig where the between-song-banter ends on a punchline of "bogie", courtesy of an incident with her younger daughter Daisy. And the gentle teasing from Kate of husband Damien O’Kane and the band’s four other musicians let you be part of their gang. Soon we too were listening out to see which band member was topping the played-the-last-note-of-the-song chart they use to spice up the tour.
That’s all part of the strong sense of family that comes from a Rusby gig. There’s brother Joe on the sound, husband Damien as main music man on stage and there’s a reassuring sense of continuity from hearing that Kate’s learned The Night Visit from her mum over a glass of wine.
"Sometimes I’m just like ‘Gizzit!’," laughed Kate revealing she often asks her musical parents to pass on to her their treasured traditional songs.
There are many stories about the songs themselves that Kate loves to share – one was how The Three Jolly Fisherman is claimed by both Whitby and the south of England.
And over the set there was a sense of continuity through generations.
Kate joked that she’s already passing on to her own two little girls the message of "warning songs" like I Wish, where young girls are advised to watch out for bold farmers and their ilk.
But it’s too late for Kate who is clearly smitten with husband Damien’s charms.
"Show us your Irish dancing toe," she coaxes him, in her signature pre-song pose like a long-jumper poised for the power run-up. And we were left in his capable hands while Kate left the stage twice in the night for the band’s "manly tunes"– a rip-roaring set of instrumentals cutely incorporating The Muppets’ theme.
The first half saw Damien reveal his own plaintive, powerful voice in The Banks Of The Bann, where a lover’s cheeks are sinisterly "red as roses or blood in the snow".
We even got in on the action as Kate regularly invited us to sing along. The only problem on We Will Sing is that we have to sing those words in the style of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Kate's preferred first option for accompaniment in the Mayday number.If only she hadn't been shy when they shared the bill at the Cambridge Folk Festival.
If there’s a song of the night, it’s probably new album title track Ghost, written by Kate to an entirely appropriate – haunting – melody and with the story of her home’s own ghost introduced too.
The live arrangement was a pared-down powerhouse of electric guitar, Damien on acoustic guitar and Kate’s own voice. It’s a lullaby potent enough to settle any music-loving spook.